OK this book was WAY out of my comfort zone. There aren't too many reasons why I would dedicate my time to such a thing, but my son would be one of them. He special-ordered this book from Barnes & Noble when he discovered that it was the archetype for a mind-blowing video game that he'd played. He insisted I read it, and I have to admit, based on everything he told me, I was intrigued.
The author is a journalist known for his exploration of science fiction, magical realism, and social and political structures. At the age of 18, he wrote this book and published it online (in Russian) for free. He has also turned it into a sort of art experiment, with collaborations on original soundtracks and oil paintings being created for the novel. Over 3 million people have read it worldwide, and in recent months with the additional exposure, is being translated and sold in hard copy. With Glukhovsky's assistance, it has been made into two separate video games (which are phenomenal per my son), and has been optioned for a movie by MGM studios. All I can say about all of this is...WOW.
Synopsis: In 2013, the earth suffered a devastating nuclear apocalypse, wiping out all life on earth. There were a lucky few who were able to escape into the Russian underground Metro at the time, including Artyom, who was just a baby and whose mother passed him off to a guard before she died. Twenty years later, the earth above is still toxic, we are given a chilling description of life in the tunnels.
Ammunition is used for barter, meat is a rarity and mushrooms are a surplus, and there is no sense of time because there is no natural light. The metro system has been separated into miniature cities in each station, all governed by different factions...some peaceful and some power-hungry...so that moving too far from your home base is risky. And something unexplainable and sinister has been at work lately. Certain parts of the metro have rendered some men catatonic and some have died. Deadly fumes? Ghostly voices? And there are dark creatures that have entered into the tunnels from above, and are threatening what is left of humanity.
Artyom has been given a mission...to travel to Polis, the political and intellectual epicenter of the metro...and warn them of these dark creatures that will ultimately threaten them all. He launches on an epic journey, going farther than he has ever gone before in his life. He encounters all walks of life...a philosopher, and old man and his handicapped son, Che Guevara revolutionaries, fascists, cannibals, intellectuals and heroes. His life is continuously threatened, but the further he travels, the more he begins to believe he has been chosen for a higher purpose, a purpose yet to be revealed to him. Through stories from the elders, and of his brief glimpses of the world above ground through a gas mask, he witnesses the consequences of man's hatred of each other. The question is...is there hope? Can the destruction be reversed? Can these "evolved beings" be stopped?
My thoughts: I've never read anything quite like this book. The world-building was overwhelming, almost claustrophobic, and highly original. (Couple that with a glimpse of the video game and it all hits you right in the solar plexus.) You can envision the darkness, the smell, the despair, the terror from horrors real and imagined. The political and social structure of this new world is also complex, remnants of the same hierarchies and stratifications we have today. I also found the psychological fallout of an underground existence to be fascinating. Because of the lack of efficient communication, legends and rumors run rampant and drive everyone to the brink of panic, as they are unable to determine what is real and what is not.
On the other hand, the book was not easy to read. It's structure and prose were stilted and harsh. Was this intentional, mirroring the personality of Artyom? I tend to think it was a combination of a young writer and an awkward translation in need of a heavier editing hand. There were also many Russian names that just wouldn't stick in my head. I didn't worry about it much though. I figured the important names would become apparent.
And of course, the story does not end with this book. I wouldn't necessarily say it ended with a cliffhanger, but there is no way I'm satisfied because there was a huge "AHA" in the last pages. I want more. While the Russian version of "Metro 2034" came out in 2009 (and was the top local bestseller that year), the English version is not yet available in full. So I guess we wait, and hope for a good translation!
4 out of 5 stars